Peter Singer

Singer's position is inspired by the observations of British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). There are, however, differences between the positions of Singer and Bentham. While for Bentham the capacity to feel and suffer constitutes the central ethical question, Singer's ethics revolves around the concept of interest or preference.

The following quotation from Jeremy Bentham may nevertheless be considered as capturing the basic idea of the animal protection position and also as a forerunner of the speciesism critique (see below).

"The day may come when the rest of the animal creation acquires those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? It is the faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk but, Can they suffer?"

Cited in:

Singer, Peter: Animal Liberation - a New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals, 1975. New York: New York Review Book (Random House), 8 f.

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